What to do for feral and orphaned kittens

Understanding kitten season 

Kitten season typically spans from early spring to late summer when temperatures rise, and cats breed more frequently. During this time, stray and feral cats give birth to litters of kittens, leading to an influx of vulnerable young cats in need of care and shelter.  

Here’s what to do if you find kittens by themselves outdoors, especially during kitten season: 

Leave kittens with their mothers 

The best practice is to leave outdoor kittens where they are. Mothers may be very close or may be hunting for food. It is extremely rare that kittens would be abandoned by their mother. Taking kittens away reduces their natural development of their immune systems and it adversely affects their socialization.  

Why It Matters: Although outdoor kittens are usually taken by well-meaning and concerned citizens, taking them from their mothers not only has a negative effect on the development of the kitten, which may create problems throughout their life, but it also puts a financial and housing burden on animal welfare groups.  

If you find orphaned kittens 

It is extremely rare that kittens would be abandoned by their mother.

If you think a kitten has been abandoned or is without a mother, here are the steps to take: 

  • Observe from a distance: If you come across a litter of kittens, watch from afar for a few hours to see if the mother returns. She may be out searching for food or temporarily away. 
  • Assess their health: If the kittens appear sick, injured, or in immediate danger, intervene. 
  • Contact local shelters or rescue groups: Seek guidance from animal welfare organizations in your area for the best course of action. In Hillsborough County, contact the Pet Resource Center

It is important to avoid handling kittens unnecessarily, as it may distress them or cause them harm. 

Caring for kittens under 8 weeks 

Providing round-the-clock care for orphaned kittens is demanding and requires dedication. Here are the key things to remember when caring for young kittens: 

  • Feeding: Kittens under 8 weeks old require special kitten milk replacement formula, as they are unable to digest cow's milk. Kittens must be fed and cared for every two hours around the clock – this means you are not going to get a good night’s sleep while caring for kittens. This is one of the main reasons people bring kittens they were taking care of to local shelters. 
  • Temperature control: Keep kittens warm, as they cannot regulate their body temperature effectively. 
  • Hygiene: Gently clean kittens after feeding to stimulate bowel movements, mimicking their mother's grooming behavior. 
  • Veterinary care: Schedule a vet visit promptly for health checks, vaccinations, and deworming. 

For those who want to get involved in being an at-home caregiver for stray and neonatal kittens, visit the Wait Until 8 page to learn more. 

Tips for community cat care 

The best thing for community cats is for them to receive the least possible human interaction. This includes limiting the amount of food put out during daylight hours.  

The age-old practice of “cat colony management” has been proven to be more harmful to outdoor cat welfare than helping individual cats or small groups of cats. Mass feeding not only attracts potentially dangerous wildlife, but also creates nuisances that anger residents and place good outdoor cat programs at risk of being removed. 

Remember, outdoor community cats are not your personal pets. Too much human interaction places these cats at greater risk than leaving them alone. 

If you feel the need to assist community cats, please contact the Pet Resource Center at (813) 301-7387.

Last Modified: 4/23/2024, 12:36:24 PM

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